This article is also available in Spanish.

I have written several articles in which I explain differences in communication styles between dairy owners and dairy employees.  Most of these articles explain these differences to dairy owners and provide tips on how to close potential communication gaps.  This time, I would like to offer suggestions to dairy employees on how to communicate more efficiently with their managers.

1. Remember that we are all working towards the same goals

Regardless of culture, background or language, all of us working in the dairy industry have three essential goals: keep cows healthy and productive, produce high quality milk, and improve our opportunities and those of the next generation through stable income.

I believe it is extremely important for all on the dairy to understand this.  We all work as a team and if cow health and production improves, we all benefit.  Once we see this, we will interact in a more positive manner and will be more open to others’ ideas. 

 2. Provide input

I believe this is an area that requires a lot of improvement both on part of managers as well as employees.  We assume that if others have questions, they will ask.  We assume that if no questions are asked, there is no interest in knowing or understanding our point of view.  Assuming is a mistake that could have serious consequences. 

Many times managers might not be aware of challenges associated with the tasks that employees perform.  For example, your manager might not know that one of the milking units keeps falling off, or that the uneven flooring in the hospital area causes employees to trip and fall.  If you don’t describe the problem to the manager, how would they know?  Although very often managers are in the area and help with several tasks, they may not have time to inspect everything, or to interview everyone.  It is important that you bring up safety and work efficiency issues to them as soon as possible in order for them to address problems in a timely manner and avoid health and productivity problems both in cows and employees. Managers will appreciate this.

3. Ask for help

It is human nature to feel a bit uncomfortable asking for help in certain situations.  But what we must keep in mind is that it is better to ask for help or for a more detailed explanation than to be unsure of how we are supposed to medicate a cow or do a physical exam.  Not asking for help could be a very costly mistake.  Managers will much rather explain something a few times than deal with the consequences of an employee injecting a cow with the wrong drug or sending her to slaughter with antibiotics still in her system. 

4. Be direct

This can be a challenge for many of us as we feel that being direct with others might upset them and create stress in the workplace.  Many of us tend to throw hints here and there and bring up a problem in an indirect way; we tell stories instead of going straight to the point.  And that is ok, as long as your audience understands that the point is hidden between the lines.  What we must understand is that not everyone communicates in this way and that many people would rather have a direct exchange of information.  If you are having a problem in the maternity area, make sure that you convey this problem to your manager as directly as possible.  Instead of recounting your experiences over the last two weeks, start by saying that you have a problem and would like to consult with him, and then explain what the problem is.  Make sure the message is not lost in the story. 

Important to note here is that being direct is not the same as being confrontational or aggressive.  Being direct is saying things in a clear and concise manner. It is very important to remember that we should communicate respectfully with both our supervisors and our co-workers.

These are only a few examples of how we can improve communication at work.  Our cultural background determines how we communicate, but with some understanding of how others and we might convey and receive a message, we can start minimizing our differences and work together more efficiently.  Better communication does not only improve our work environment, but also the health of the dairy industry and our communities. 

Noa Roman-Muniz is a extension dairy specialist with Colorado State University